The Potato Crop
by Linda C Butler
We have flower beds made with landscape ties by a fence and in front of our house. Potatoes sometimes sprout from the compost in these beds and we have left them to grow, digging the occasional hill in the fall.
I am bothered by cats using these flower beds as a community litter box, so this year I almost decided to cover the flower beds with black landscape cloth and artificial flowers, but then I remembered potatoes. I removed some of the dirt from the beds so the soil is now below the box edges, then dug the ground and mixed dried leaves and compost into the soil. I will plant potatoes, then staple wire to the wood edges, allowing the potatoes to grow through the wire. Since the soil is below the wire, cats will not scratch in the dirt. I selected Norland, an early red variety with high yields for delicious summer potato salads.
Potatoes grow faster if they are sprouted before planting, so I laid them on a tray in a warm place and the sprouts are now about half an inch long. Small potatoes can be planted whole, but larger potatoes should be cut in half or in quarters, with at least one eye in each piece. After cutting, the potatoes can sit for a day to dry the edges of the cut surface. They are planted 6 inches deep.
After the plants have grown, they are hilled to protect the growing tubers from greening and to encourage additional growth at the top of the vine. I will add dirt to the flower bed at that time, and probably cover it with landscape cloth as I cannot hill potatoes in the traditional way. Under good growing conditions, Norland potatoes will mature in 90 days. When the tops have died down, they can be cut away. The mature potatoes can be harvested then, or left in the ground for a couple weeks to allow the skins to properly set for storage.
I grew Norland potatoes last summer in Northern Manitoba. I was given a bag of sprouted seed potatoes and a neighbor rototilled a patch of ground. I planted the potatoes at the beginning of July but they took a long time to sprout as the soil was still cold. This year, I will plant them in raised beds as the soil in beds warms faster than bare ground. Our neighbors harvested a successful crop in September.
My Dad, who trapped in the Thompson MB area in the 1930s, planted his potato patch on a portage. He was gone all summer, but travellers on the river took time to weed and to hill the potatoes for him. His wilderness potato crop was dependant on the generosity of passersby. Once the potatoes reached a certain size, visitors could help themselves to young potatoes for a meal.
I read an editorial in our local paper about climate change and its devastating effect on the world’s ability to produce food. The suggestion is that we should eat local food, locally produced, or grown at home.
One of the most basic foods is the potato. We rely primarily on 10 or 12 types of potatoes but there are some 5,000 potato varieties among the South American Andes mountain slopes where potatoes originated, many with future food potential. The potato yields more nutritious food more quickly on less land and in harsher climates than any other major food crop. It is interesting that my decision to plant potatoes is a good choice for a world facing more severe climate conditions.
Reference: Chilliwack Progress, www.theprogress.com page 12, 4 April 14 “A little food for thought on global climate change”, Margaret Evans.